Collisions with flocks of birds, which recently caused a jet in New York to have to make an emergency water landing in the Hudson River after losing both its engines, are a danger that investigators want to figure out how to prevent in the future.

The first step towards controlling these birds is to figure out what species they are. Researcher Travis DeVault says, “It is very important to get IDs on species that are struck. If we don’t know which birds are struck then we don?t know how to prevent it. I don’t think that we’ll totally eliminate bird strikes. The goal though is to reduce that frequency as much as we can.”

Of the birds hit by airplanes, 20% are gulls, while doves or pigeons make up 14%, raptors 13% and waterfowl 9%. DeVault says, “Usually the heaviest birds are considered the most hazardous, including geese, ducks, vultures and pelicans. However, small, flocking birds like starlings and blackbirds also can be hazardous to aircraft.”

And it’s not only birds: while they account for 97% of airline strikes, the remainder are attributed to large mammals such as deer and coyotes or reptiles such as alligators. More than 700 deer collisions with airplanes were reported in the United States from 1990 through 2006.

Since 1990 about 82,000 wildlife strikes have been reported to the FAA, and DeVault says they’re growing steadily every year. In 1997, 3,458 strikes were reported while in 2007 that number had risen to 7,666. He says, “Over the past 20 years worldwide, 182 people have died and 185 aircraft have been destroyed as a result of wildlife collisions with aircraft.”

And things are actually much WORSE than they seem: DeVault says, “We estimate that only 20% of all wildlife strikes are reported to the FAA.” About 4% of the reported strikes result in substantial damage to the aircrafts.

One cause of this problem is improvements in aircraft. According to DeVault, “Modern planes are faster and quieter than they were decades ago, and thus birds have less time to avoid being struck once they detect the approaching aircraft.”

So how do we convince the birds to stay out of the way? Maybe we should just talk to them about it.

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